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WEST FEARS A SUFFOCATING HAZE OF RULES

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The vista from the rim of the Grand Canyon is unforgettable: a chasm of red and orange sandstone, a swirling ribbon of Colorado River and . . . haze as far as the eye can see.

The 1990 Clean Air Act says that haze - including the air pollution over Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches and Capitol Reef national parks - has got to go.While most people acknowledge there's a problem, they haven't agreed on a solution.

Gov. Mike Leavitt fears the solution, whatever it is, "will have grave implications for all the Western states."

Leavitt and other Western governors met recently in St. George to discuss how to leverage their power in the Republican-controlled Congress. At the heart of the discussions was a call for a balance of powers between the states and federal government to give states a greater voice in addressing various problems. The solutions to those problems are now mandated by federal agencies the governors say have been less than sympathetic to their concerns.

The need for greater state self-determination permeates discussions on virtually every issue addressed by Western governors, but they spent most of their time discussing how states can mitigate the impacts of environmental mandates and achieve greater state control over public lands.

And the states-rights campaign has put environmentalists in the uncomfortable position of defending federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act's regulations pertaining to vistas over national parks.

Conservationists say it's time Western governors put up or shut up about their desire for clean air on the Colorado Plateau.

"Show me your program, Gov. Leavitt. That's what I say," said Terri Martin, regional director of the National Parks and Conservation, noting that former Gov. Norm Bangerter's administration nixed a plan in the mid-1980s that would have begun cleaning up the air over southern Utah.

"It's been 10 years, and during that time the amount of pollution which blows into Utah and degrades the 100-mile vistas that we all love is getting worse," Martin said.

Cleaning up those vistas, according to Leavitt, could require states as far away as Oregon to maintain much more stringent clean-air standards so that air from those states would "flush" the dirty air from the Colorado Plateau. States with relatively clean air, like Utah, might be forced to abide by the same federal regulations reserved for highly polluted areas like Southern California.

Leavitt and other Western governors are starting to criticize the process they set up themselves to satisfy the 1990 Clean Air Act.

Called the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, the process allows the states to avert onerous mandates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by developing their own solutions to air pollution.

The commission is staffed by contract professionals and air-quality officials from all of the Western states.

Though Leavitt likes the process that allows states, rather than the feds, to find solutions, he and his colleagues are getting nervous over the secretiveness of the staff working on proposed solutions. Some worry that the federal government is manipulating public opinion on the issue.

In particular, Western governors don't like what little they have heard about "clean-air corridors" - a theoretical concept in which dirty air is pushed out of the Colorado Plateau canyons by corridors of cleaner air from the north and west. Even though clean-air corridors have not been proven to exist, Western governors say those states in the clean-air corridors could be forced to maintain the same strict air-pollution standards as those areas with dirty air, specifically California.

"A more stringent standard . . . could be a severe inhibition on our economic development," said Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, adding that if states like Oregon, Nevada and Utah are forced to implement clean-air corridors, "we'll be saying to ourselves, `What the hell happened here?' "

Of the air pollution over the Grand Canyon, studies indicate 7 percent to 12 percent comes from Mexico, 25 percent to 35 percent comes from the large power plant at Lake Powell and the balance from Southern California.

In other words, Western governors fear they will be saddled with the costs of implementing California's clean-air standards for a problem caused primarily by California.

The commission has until Nov. 15, 1995, to make final recommendations to the EPA. A technical committee has completed an inventory of all emissions that impair visibility in the West and has developed a methodology for characterizing areas that supply clean air to the Colorado Plateau.

If the governors are fearful of the options or of federal mandates, they should come up with a workable proposal of their own, said Martin, adding that she's quickly tired of the anti-federal-government rhetoric that has multiplied since the November elections.

"If (Leavitt) is not going to come up with a plan, then let's hear him say he's not in favor of clean air," she said.

A series of public meetings on the commission's proposals is scheduled for next spring, and formal public hearings on the final commission recommendations will be held next fall.

Until then, Western governors and environmentalists alike are holding their breath.

Tomorrow: Is a road less-traveled really a road? The debate over public-lands access.